Reflecting on our experience of Shared Parental Leave

On Friday my husband spent his last day at home caring for our son.  This week our little boy started with his childminder and my husband returned to work.  He’d met up with his colleagues for after work drinks on the Thursday and had a chat with his managers about his role returning to the company.

I’ve taken some time to reflect over the past 10 months of our shared parental journey and share my thoughts with you.

One thing I’ve been very grateful for has been the positive reaction to our decision.  Sometimes you read articles where women have been ‘mummy-shamed’ about their decision to return to work early or the father is questioned why he isn’t providing for his family (the internet can be the worst sometimes).  We have received no judgement from family and friends or our workplaces and we feel incredibly lucky for this.

One of the main reasons we chose SPL was financial.  Since I am the main breadwinner, I was keen to get back to work once my maternity pay had dwindled. As it turned out, we had saved enough to safely cover emergencies (thank you PF/FIRE community!). Good thing too as we had to purchase a new car and pay a one month deposit to the childminder.  Would we have done SPL if my husband earned more? Probably as there have been other benefits too.

My husband has had a valuable chance to bond with our son and develop his own style of parenting.  We have different approaches and sometimes I question why he is doing something a particular way but then I have to stop myself.  His way is no less effective than mine, only different so I have learnt to respect his judgement more.

Some of the downsides have been I have lost some of the friendships I had developed when I was on maternity leave since going back to work now that I can no longer hang out on weekdays.  Some may say this isn’t much of a loss but I do miss having people to talk about parenting with and children of a similar age for my son to play with. Thankfully I still have a couple of people that I still get to see on the odd weekend and of course all of our other friends, with or without children!

Setting up SPL was a bit of a pain as it is still reasonably new and there was a bit of paperwork to complete.  We almost had to be experts ourselves before approaching our HR departments.  There was an issue with my first month’s pay back at work full time as I hadn’t been put back on payroll so there was a flurry of activity and a lot of anxiety on my end as they sorted it out.

I think my husband found the change of pace challenging at times and although the landscape is changing slowly, he would still sometimes be the only man at our son’s activities. We also had to consciously make time for each other, rather than just ‘changing shifts’ when the other parent got home from work.

Overall though, it’s been an amazing experience and I highly recommend looking into it, even just to give yourself more options when deciding on childcare.  I have had colleagues of both sexes ask about how we set it up and about our experiences and I hope we can help them as they decide the best course of childcare for their families.

More information about Shared Parental Leave can be found at:

https://www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay

http://www.acas.org.uk/spl

https://www.maternityaction.org.uk/advice-2/mums-dads-scenarios/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/

 

Shared Parental Leave: How we choose to afford childcare

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, my husband and I opted for shared parental leave rather than the traditional 12 months maternity leave on offer in the UK.  I went on maternity leave in May last year until December and then my husband took over from the start of this year until May.

In this post I want to go a little bit more into why we chose this for our family, how we set it up and some of the perks and challenges along the way.

Why did we opt for shared parental leave?

  1. Ultimately, the main reason was because I earn more than my husband.  We did some calculations in the early stages of my pregnancy and in order to comfortably pay our bills and continue to save towards our dream of owning our own home I would need to go back to work sooner.
  2. My husband wanted to be a hands-on father to our son.  This arrangement wouldn’t work unless both parents are 100% on board.

How it works

Both parents need to have been at their job for at least 26 weeks before applying.  Along with the usual paperwork you need to complete for maternity leave, I had to complete a form confirming that I would be ending my maternity leave early in order to begin Shared Parental Leave. Once you opt to end  maternity leave, your decision is final, so you need to be absolutely sure you want to do this!

Once you have indicated you will be ending your maternity leave, you need to decide how you are going to take your Shared Parental Leave.  You basically have 50 weeks less any maternity leave taken and you can either take your leave in turns or at the same time. You don’t need to decide this right away but you do need to give your employer at least 8 weeks notice.

How has it been going so far?

Just over one month in, I’d say it’s going pretty well.  I have quite a supportive employer and they have allowed me to work from home occasionally.   My husband is doing a great job and is loving watching our son learn and grow right before his eyes.  I miss baby during the day but I make the most of our evenings and weekends together.

One of the things I was worried about was perhaps being questioned why I picked my career over my child (not true!) or my husband having trouble fitting in at our local playgroups and activities but the reality could not be further from the truth.  Everyone has been very supportive and there are even a few fathers at the playgroup.  The only downside has been a lot of the mum friends I made on maternity leave are still off work and prefer to meet on weekdays so I don’t catch up with them but I have enough friends with children that I don’t feel like my son or I am missing out.

What about when SPL ends?

We are still discussing options once my husband goes back to work in May.  Childcare in London is expensive and childcare for babies under 18 months is even more expensive. There’s no other way to describe it so it is going to take a hit on our finances.  My husband is looking into applying for flexible working at his company so we won’t need to pay for 5 days a week childcare.  We have been viewing childminders and nurseries in the area trying to find that golden balance of quality and affordability and we think we’ve found a few good options.

Ultimately, you know your family best and what will work best with childcare however after experiencing it, although a bit complicated to set up at the beginning, we would highly recommend considering Shared Parental Leave.

For more information about Shared Parental Leave in the UK, take a look at the ACAS website